Tooth Trouble: The Whole Story

My son started teething a bit early, around 4 months old. We did all of the things we knew to do; teething rings in the freezer, let him bite our fingers, gave him Tylenol, tried the homeopathic teething tablets, and gave him lots of cuddles.

By 6 months teeth coming through had become normal for us and by 9 months he had quite a few teeth.

We were moving from our apartment in Augusta, GA to our first home in Richmond, VA when he was 9 months old. At his final check up with the GA pediatrician, she was concerned about his teeth. “They seem to have some deformation,” she said. “I recommend you take him to the dentist immediately.”

Really? The dentist at 9 months old? Aren’t you supposed to have the first appointment at age 2 or 3? And we were in the middle of moving so it didn’t make sense to try and establish a connection with a dentist when we had one foot out the door to move 10 hours away. “Then the first thing you need to do when you get to Richmond is call a pediatric dentist.”

So I did. We moved when my son was 9 months old and at 10 months old we were sitting in a pediatric dentist’s office, my son in my lap, while the dentist looked at his mis-formed teeth.

The thing was, they actually CAME IN YELLOW. This wasn’t a case of poor dental care, this was a child whose teeth came in yellow as a baby. The pediatric dentist started grilling me about my pregnancy. Had I abused drugs? What was my alcohol intake? Did I have a complicated pregnancy? Was there a family history of poorly formed teeth? Basically, what did I do to make this happen? (Answers are no, none, yes but I don’t know how that would have affected his teeth, I don’t think so, and I have no idea why are you making me feel oddly guilty?)

After more questions about his diet and eating habits and making me feel like a terrible mother I was told that there was nothing we could really do (he was still too young to even brush teeth) but we might need to start wiping his teeth with a wet rag after he eats. Oh, and I needed to stop breastfeeding.

There is actually a lot of evidence that shows the health benefits of breastfeeding, including the positive effects on oral development and dental health. Discontinuing breastfeeding was not something I was willing to do. I left the office feeling deflated and angry for the way I was made to feel that his teeth were somehow my fault.

Some family conversations later my husband and I find out that some distant cousin/relative on my husband’s side had enamel deficiency. Some strange ultra recessive gene?

We wiped my son’s teeth after eating and he had a diet of breast milk and mashed fruit and veggies. At the next check up, three months later, the dentist’s views were much of the same. There had been no improvement in my son’s teeth but he was still too young for them to do anything, and they again urged me to stop nursing and questioned what happened during my pregnancy. I also hated the way they handled my son, making me hold him down in my lap so they could pry his mouth open and take a peek. It was difficult for me to physically maneuver him and to emotionally hear him scream. The verdict was the same; let’s wait and see what happens.

Three months later, we got a different dentist. A young, very nice resident who treated my son with care and didn’t make me feel terrible about his yellow teeth. She said that not only had there been no improvement in his teeth, but it actually looked like they were beginning to further deteriorate. She recommended that we put my son under general anesthesia to perform a dental surgery. She said the condition of his teeth would continue to deteriorate, and we could choose to intervene now or later but now would be best.

I was in tears at the prospect of my son facing a surgery. My husband was not at all comforting, since his specialty is anesthesia and he thinks of it as a routine procedure. He did not seem to fully grasp what it meant to face the prospect of putting your own child to sleep for a surgery. I felt alone in my concerns and scheduling the surgery became a task of it’s own, requiring multiple calls to the “scheduling coordinator” who was in charge of coordinating the procedure with the dental office, insurance, and the OR, as well as the anesthesia team.

We were going on our first family vacation in May and would have the procedure done in June. While we were on vacation I got a call about rescheduling the exact day. Also while we were on vacation, the deterioration the dentist was afraid of came true.

We made our way to the beach prior to going to GA to visit family. While in GA, my son started running a temperature and seemed to have some facial swelling. We took him to a pediatrician in GA who said maybe it was an allergic reaction or that sometimes there can be swelling with colds and fevers. My son was in pain, and later that evening we discovered why.

His gums had abscessed. Whatever it was that made his teeth yellow had caused an infection that had spread to his gums, causing his gums and face to swell. We had to call the dentist and have her call in a prescription for an antibiotic to GA. Depending on his condition when we returned would depend on whether or not they could perform surgery, since they do not like to put children to sleep if they are running fevers and on antibiotics.

After returning home, and 2 courses on antibiotics later, the swelling was down, fevers were gone, and it was time for the surgery.

I had had a few weeks to process, so I thought I was in a good place about the surgery, and it was very apparent that it was necessary. The morning of the surgery my husband, son and I woke up extremely early and got ready to go to the hospital. I spilled my chai tea all over the kitchen floor so perhaps I wasn’t as put together as I thought.

We made it to the hospital my 6:30 AM and I followed my husband through what seemed like a maze before we arrived. We took my son to a small room where they weighed him and talked to him. We had to sign a bunch of papers. People came to talk to my husband. We met the dentist and anesthesiologist. And then they gave my son an oral medication that would make him sleepy. It really made him incredibly loopy.

I don’t know if you’ve ever dealt with a drunk baby before, but it was incredibly strange. He got really happy, and as my husband said in his take away message, “At least we know he’ll be a fun, happy drunk in college!”

Then they took him away.

There were no tears from my son when they took him, which is good, and I think part of why they give him the oral meds when we’re there with him. So it wouldn’t be as scary.

My husband and I walked down to the cafeteria. I ordered a chai. “Don’t you want anything to eat?” he asked me. I’m never one to pass up good breakfast food.

“I’m not hungry,” I replied.

We walked in silence back to the waiting room, where we sat, crowded with other moms and dads waiting for their child and a lot of other families waiting to even go back into the little room to get started. My son was the first surgery of the day.

“You know, it’s not normal to have to hand your child to someone and watch them take them away to surgery,” my husband said. It had finally caught up to him.

We passed the time with people watching. I briefly gazed through a magazine. TV blared in the corner. We laughed about something, but I don’t remember what.

“Hembree?” We jumped to attention. “He’s doing fine. The procedure went well. He’s just in recovery now. We’ll come and get you when you can see him.”

The dentist came out shortly after. “He did great! We were able to cap the bottom two teeth and do a thorough cleaning. We used the base of his top two teeth to construct caps around them to resemble full teeth. Unfortunately, the infection was too deep to save the other top two teeth, so we had to extract them. I would like to send them off to a research facility in North Carolina. I’ve really never seen anything like it.”

At 20 months old, my son had undergone general anesthesia, had fake teeth, and had two teeth extracted.

Seeing him in post-op was heart-wrenching. His mouth was in gauze and covered blood. He was extremely disoriented in a hospital gown and over-sized orange hospital socks. His face was a bit swollen and there was sticky residue over his eyes from where they had been taped shut. He was calling for Mommy and Daddy and we were right there but it was hard to comfort him because he was so unaware of his surroundings.

At some point they brought him a snow cone (a cup of ice with syrup.) We tried to help him take small bites.

Soon we were released to go home. We carried him all the way to the car and drove home as quickly as possible.

When we got home he desperately wanted to walk and play, but he was stumbling and falling. The anesthesia still hadn’t fully worn off and he was incapable of walking. He screamed and cried when I had to hold him and finally threw a large tantrum, escaped my grasp, and crawled to the middle of the living room floor where he promptly fell asleep. That was certainly a first. My husband and I sat in the living room with him and watched him sleep away the beautiful summer day.

Hours later, when he woke up, he was fine. We gave him Tylenol and used teething ice packs for a few days and that was it. Tooth drama over.

We tried the tooth fairy thing that night and left money under his pillow. The concept was lost on a 20 month old.

I was worried that only having two front top teeth would affect his eating abilities. It didn’t. I was worried that missing two front top teeth would affect his speech development. It does, but this did come into play until earlier this year when it was brought to my attention by his preschool teachers. I was worried about what it would mean to his peers to be missing his front teeth. His baby teeth are gone, and his permanent teeth will not come in until he is 6 or 7, about first grade. I just hope this never causes him to be made fun of in school. Luckily, all of his peers will be losing their baby teeth at some point so maybe it won’t be an issue.

Then on September 1st, 2011, my son’s second birthday, we received a bill in the mail for a total of $13,500 for my son’s dental surgery. Insurance was refusing to cover it. It was unclear why. One call resulted in the claim that the procedure “was not medically necessary.” Another stated that the pre-approval had been improperly filed. Yet another inquiry informed me that the billing code was incorrect. In the mean time, we were not paying any money for the surgery as I fought with the insurance company, and the hospital billing sent our file to collections, so we were receiving threatening letters. Though this is a long story and could be a post all on it’s own, the summary is that I called our insurance company EVERY WEEK for an ENTIRE YEAR. We went through two appeal processes. I dealt with the insurance company, collection agencies, the hospital, and the dentist office. Finally, right before my son’s third birthday, the appeal was accepted. After my very strongly worded letter (I wanted an award for that thing) and a very thorough appeal packet which included reference to legislation supporting the procedure, photographic evidence, and many documents, our claim was accepted. I had spent a year of my time on it, but our outstanding $13,500 bill was brought down to only a $30 co-pay.

Summer turned to fall and my son started his first experience at preschool. Then that November, my husband and son were going up the stairs to change a diaper. Someone pulled too hard and someone let go, and somehow my son fell up the stairs, cracking his top front tooth. He was in a lot of pain and it seemed the fall had not only cracked the tooth, it had pushed the base of the tooth into his gums. It was 4:30 in the afternoon and by 5:00 we were sitting in the dentist’s office, the staff was staying after hours, and they were strapping my son down in what they call a “papoose” and pulling his tooth. No drugs or anesthesia involved.

I couldn’t watch, but I could hear his screams down the hall as my husband stayed calming with him and I cried from afar.

When it was all over we drove home with a popsicle from the dentist and a child with only one remaining top front tooth. He was barely 2 and was missing three teeth that will remain missing until he is 6 or 7.

Then it was over. We diligently brush his teeth twice a day. All follow up checks up have gone well. We thought we were in the clear.

Two weeks ago my son had a dentist appointment. I left completely defeated, as they discovered that he had 4 cavities and they are now suggesting another dental surgery to fill them and do a thorough cleaning, asking that he go on a sugar free diet, and saying he needs to brush his teeth after each time he eats.

We have not scheduled the second surgery yet, because we are trying to find a time that my husband in actually home to come with us and waiting on a pre-approval from the insurance company (we have since changed companies so hopefully it will be better this time.) In the meantime, we are starting a sugar free diet and doing a lot of teeth brushing.

I’m am so exhausted from tooth drama.

I know that in terms of health problems, we are incredibly lucky that his health problems are limited to dental. The only thing is, it spills into other areas of his health such as his speech development and we are in for a lifetime of dental work and braces. One of the points of baby teeth is to be spacers for permanent teeth, and since he does not have baby teeth to hold the space, braces are inevitable. I just REALLY hope his permanent teeth come in with out deformities.

Has anyone ever experienced anything like this?